Also of note , Bernanke wasn't as downbeat about the U.S. jobs picture as the markets had expected following last Friday's dismal nonfarm payrolls number, explaining that the "apparent" slowdown may have been "exaggerated" by seasonal adjustment and weather-related issues. He highlighted consumer sentiment as a bright spot, saying that despite mixed readings, sentiment is nevertheless "up noticeably" from levels late last year.
Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen was more forthcoming about her thoughts on monetary easing, saying Wednesday night that "risk management considerations arising from today's unusual circumstances strengthen the case for additional accommodation," suggesting that the Fed could ramp up its bond purchasing program or hold off on interest rate hikes.
In other U.S. news, the Labor Department reported Thursday that weekly initial jobless claims for the week ended June 2 fell to 377,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 389,000. The decline was the first since April. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected the number of Americans filing unemployment claims for the first time to slide to 375,000.
"The underlying trend in claims is still upwards, but we expect it to turn back down again very soon," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. "The economic story, we think, is that the gas price hit is reversing."The FTSE in London settled up 1.2% and the DAX in Germany closed up 0.8% after the eurozone's strongest economy indicated some willingness to take on more balance sheet risk for some the peripheral countries. The euro, however, slipped after Fitch downgraded Spain's rating to BBB with negative outlook. The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong settled up 0.9% and the Nikkei in Japan rose 1.2% The July crude oil contract fell 20 cents to settle at $84.82 a barrel. August gold futures dropped $46.20 to settle at $1,588 an ounce. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was up 2/32, lowering the yield to 1.657%. The greenback was off 0.2%, according to the dollar index, which compares the buck to a basket of currencies.